Company pledges $20 million to rebuild local Kaiser plant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 2, 1999

GRAMERCY – Amid candles in the evening breeze, prayers were offered that Kaiser Aluminum would “come to their senses and negotiate.”The brief ceremony at Kaiser’s main gate on Airline Highway Thursday at sunset capped a day of events, including a federal court ruling against Kaiser and the company’s announcement of $20 million pledged toward reconstruction of the plant.

White candles were held aloft in the five-minute ceremony outside the main gate after prayers were offered by Linda Rixner of LaPlace and union office manager Stanley Folse.

The prayers called for a swift end to the strike and gave thanks for the union members’ solidarity. These were followed by rallying cries of “Onemore day!” and “One day longer!” which rang in the night sky.

Earlier that same day, Kaiser’s board of directors approved the spending of up to $20 million for the first phase of rebuilding the damaged portion of the company’s Gramercy alumina refinery.

The approved spending covers design engineering work, ordering of certain equipment having long lead-time for delivery and related activities such as demolition and site preparation.

Demolition of the site of the July 5 explosion is due to begin this week, Kaiser stated.

Making Thursday equally memorable was the ruling that afternoon by Federal District Judge Carl Barbier, after only a couple of hours’ hearing, that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is, indeed, the properagency to investigate the explosion at Kaiser’s Gramercy facility.

MSHA panel chairman Tony Oppegard emphasized their only purpose is to determine the exact cause of the explosion in order to prevent future such occurrences.

However, Wayne Stafford, president of USWA Local 5702, said Kaiser fears costly liability in civil cases and is trying to soft-pedal the report.

Stafford added that he believes MSHA is more free of possible political influence than the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which he feels would have “softened” its report.

Kaiser, as a processing plant of aluminum ore, has been under the federal supervision of MSHA since its gates opened in 1958.

“We are evaluating whether to appeal that decision,” Scott Lamb of Kaiser commented after the decision was announced by Judge Barbier.

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